FYI: There is some violence in the chapter. If you would prefer not to read, send me a PM or leave a note in a review and I will send you a quick summary of the scene.

Chapter Sixteen: Reckoning

When conscious thoughts started to surface again, I slowly became aware of my body. My eyes were still burning so I kept them closed at first. My mouth felt thick, but with my disoriented state, it took me a few moments to realize the sensation was caused by an actual cloth wedged between my teeth and stretched behind my head. My hands were bound together which was causing the ache in my shoulders. I attempted to move my feet, but they were restricted as well.

"I can tell you're awake so you might as well open your eyes," a female voice commanded. When I didn't immediately react, I felt the sting of a sharp slap across my left cheek. My eyes popped open and I fought against the pain to keep them that way, although I did have to blink several times to clear the rest of the fog. Based on the severity of my current headache, my guess was that I had been knocked unconscious after being assaulted with pepper spray.

I realized I was in the middle of my living room, bound and gagged. My captor was sitting across from me on a second kitchen chair she had pulled into the room. She made a show of looking me over from head to toe before leaning back.

"I can't figure out for the world of me what Edward could possibly see in you. Obviously his standards have deteriorated since the two of us were together."

I tried to growl at her, but the sound was too muffled. She only laughed at my discomfort. It was then that I noticed the vine around her right wrist, the unneeded confirmation that Victoria was the person who attacked me in my own home. But it wasn't her actual hand that caught my attention; it was the sharp blade protruding from her grasp.

Victoria followed my gaze and laughed again as she started slicing the object through the air before my face. "Ah, it seems like you have noticed my father's old hunting knife. I never imagined I would find a use for this particular keepsake."

The woman in front of me seemed slightly manic. The realization doubled my fear, if that was even possible considering my current state of extreme panic.

"Well, Miss Swan, it appears you have thrown quite the wrench into my carefully laid plans, which I don't appreciate at all. The question now is what to do about it." Victoria brought the tip of the knife across my right cheek. Although she used a light touch and didn't pierce my skin, I could still feel that the abrasion left a mark.

Thoughts were racing through my head trying to figure out why she was here and how she even knew that her involvement had been unearthed. She must have anticipated my unspoken questions.

"I have been following you the last couple of days, ever since the FBI started questioning the other individuals who could have accessed the mainframe. They originally cooperated, barely investigating once you were in their target sight, but apparently you felt the need to push them in other directions. And now, you managed to luck out and find that pervert who opened the post office box."

My mind immediately flashed to the green Saabs I saw earlier today, realizing that it was mostly likely just one Saab – hers.

"Now what I need to know it whether you have contacted the FBI with this latest information. Because it looks like I am going to have to leave the country, which I am really not happy about, and I need to know whether my passport has been flagged. So, Miss Swan, how much of a nuisance have you been? How badly do I have to punish you for screwing up what was supposed to be a perfect plan?"

With the last question, the knife returned to my face and this time I felt a small amount of blood trickle down my cheek. My body instinctively tried to shrink back into the chair as the seriousness of the situation bombarded all of my senses.

"So here's what we're going to do. I will remove your gag but if you try to scream then this knife will do a lot more damage than a little scratch. Are we clear?"

I nodded my head up and down as I debated my best course of action. I didn't doubt that the bitch would cut me again or do worse if I tried to yell for help, but would the pain be worth a potential rescue by someone in my building? The problem was they probably won't hear me even if I did try calling out. After being subjected to my Phoenix neighbors' sexual habits night after night, I had made soundproof walls one of my top priorities when searching for a place here in Seattle. The better option seemed to be keeping Victoria engaged and sane until Edward arrived.

I opened my mouth several times to ease the stiffness after the cloth was removed, but I barely had time to enjoy the new freedom before my head was yanked backwards. Victoria had a handful of my hair and was pulling so hard that my neck strained at an awkward angle from the force. Tears formed in my eyes and I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming out.

"Good girl. Just testing to make sure you can keep your mouth shut while we have our little talk. See, I can't promise that I won't inflict more pain here and there during the conversation. After all, you really did fuck me over with your little Nancy Drew routine seeing as I planned on enjoying my newfound wealth here in Seattle. But assuming you cooperate and don't bullshit me, then I will leave you in alive when I am done."

Victoria released my hair, but I couldn't relax as the manic look had returned and her eyes practically glowed with glee as she continued, "but with a few souvenirs of our time together of course."

This time, the tip of the knife ran down my upper right arm, cutting more deeply, and I watched in horror as the wound welled with dark red liquid. The sight and smell of my own blood was almost too much for my mind to take, but the pain that quickly followed kept my body alert. Unfortunately I couldn't suppress the animalistic cry that bubbled up and out of my throat, but Victoria anticipated my weakness and clamped her hand over my mouth before the sound could fully escape. Of course I earned a strike in the temple with the knife's handle for failure to follow instructions. My head started swimming again, but my instinct to stay conscious at all cost won out.

"So who besides Edward have you talked to since you left the post office?" Victoria asked after returning to the seat in front of me. Her tone had taken on a different quality than moments before. She was cold and calculating and completely focused; the need for information trumping her obvious desire to inflict pain.

"No one," I squeaked out, using my voice for the first time since this nightmare began. "I tried to tell my legal team, but I couldn't get past the receptionist. The lead counselor was apparently occupied so he just passed along the message that we would talk at our meeting already scheduled for tomorrow morning."

"Hmm…I am tempted to believe you, but not about to risk capture on that hunch." Victoria leaned back and seemed to consider the situation a moment before her face brightened. She leaped up and after a quick search found the living room extension for my landline. I could see her scrolling through the call logs and knew what she would find. I hadn't used that line at all today.

"Where is your cell phone?" she asked all businesslike.

"In my front pocket," I responded then leaned sideways to give her access. As I shifted, my bound hands swung to the side and I felt a stab to my wrist. At first, I cursed my luck. As if I weren't already bruised and bloodied enough, I had scraped myself on the annoying nail that stuck out the back of the chair, a defect I discovered right after the dining set had been delivered but hadn't gotten around to fixing. But then I considered that perhaps luck was on my side after all.

As Victoria pulled up the records of my incoming and outgoing calls, I started maneuvering the knot binding my wrists together against the nail head, trying to loosen the connection.

"Well it appears my instinct was right, you don't have the balls to lie to me. Unless you could have conveyed my involvement during the one 47-second phone call you made this afternoon, which I seriously doubt. Now assuming no one starts looking for you before your meeting tomorrow, I should have plenty of time to tie up some loose ends and cross the border into Canada." She seemed to be talking to herself so I spent those brief moments at war inside my own mind. Part of me was rejoicing at the thought that she would hopefully be leaving my apartment soon, but another part hated the idea of her getting away with the crime even if my own name was cleared. If I could just keep her talking until Edward got here…

"What about James?" I asked, grasping at a topic.

"What about him?"

"Does he know we uncovered the truth of the crime and that he needs to leave town as well?"

Victoria looked confused for a slight moment before throwing her head back in laughter.

"You really thought James was involved with this? He may be a cocky bastard at times, but the man is a choir boy at heart." Her laughter quickly evaporated as a scowl replaced the grin from moments before. "Well, shit, you aren't as smart as I thought. Apparently it was just dumb luck that you were able to find evidence against me. Perhaps I showed my hand too soon by coming here, which just pisses me off more. I might just need to make another cut to improve my mood."

As she leaned forward seeming to consider a suitable location on my body, the phone that had been discarded on the floor gave a loud beep signaling an incoming text. Victoria quickly grabbed my cell and flipped the device back open as I continued loosening the knot binding my hands together.

"Well, it seems like you have a secret or two after all," my captor sneered after reading the message. "You failed to mention that Edward was supposed to be coming over tonight. Of course, that is easy to take care of now that he has conveniently told me himself."

As Victoria typed out a reply text, presumably telling Edward not to come over after all, my heart sank. Although I didn't like the idea of being a damsel in distress, the fact of the matter was that I was counting on him to swoop in and save me. Now I was faced with deciding for myself what was more important, protecting my own skin – literally – or seeing Victoria brought to justice. I really didn't think she would intentionally kill me, but if I tried to fight, there was a chance of getting fatally wounded during a struggle for the knife. I had to also consider the potential punishment if I failed in my attempt to break free. I didn't doubt that those cuts, and resulting scars, would be even more severe. A scene from one of my favorite movies surfaced in my mind out of nowhere, a quote about fighting someone to the pain instead of to the death.

But as Victoria approached me once again with the knife, the decision became clear. The bitch had already taken too much from me, and I refused to let her get away with more. Calling forth every female heroine I had ever admired from Buffy to Sydney Bristow, I pulled and tugged against the chair's misplaced nail with all the strength I possessed. Victoria seemed to realize I was up to something a split second before my hands were free and I was flinging my body at hers. Since my ankles were still bound, we didn't make it far before crashing to the floor of my living room.

"You bitch," Victoria barked out as she kicked at my legs and lower body. Her arms were pinned beneath my own hands, but I wasn't sure how long I could hold her and belatedly realized I should have thought this plan through more. The redhead was trying to angle the knife she still held towards my face which was hovering above her own, so I started slamming that wrist against the carpet. I finally caught a break as the weapon flew out of her grasp, but it was in that same moment that she managed to flip our bodies and gain the upper hand.

The quick movement caused my left leg to push against the chair awkwardly and the telltale sound of a bone breaking confirmed the furniture's victory in the struggle.

I cried out in agony as Victoria attempted to reach for the fallen knife while keeping me pinned to the floor.

"Bella, Bella, are you okay?"

In my haze of pain, I wasn't sure if I was really hearing Edward's muffled voice or if my subconscious was playing tricks on me. After all, he shouldn't be here. Victoria had sent him a text saying I needed to cancel our dinner plans as something else came up.

But based on Victoria's reaction, it was obvious that she also heard his yells and the loud bangs on my door. The manic look returned in full force as the other woman retrieved the knife. I feared that her sanity had entirely fled after realizing that she missed her chance to escape. As her primal scream of rage filled the room, I was forced to reconsider my assessment that she wouldn't seriously harm me. In that moment, I felt sure she would in fact kill me if I didn't stop her.

I could hear Edward trying to break down the door and initially thought to only hold her off until he gained entrance, but my own more basic side surfaced and I wanted, no needed, to take care of the bitch myself.

As Victoria raised up her body to gain a better position for a final swipe of the knife, I took advantage of a freed arm and threw a punch I wouldn't have guess I was capable of. Her nose burst into a sea of red and our bodies tilted to the side. In the few seconds it took Victoria to recover, I managed to grab a chair leg that had broken off in our earlier struggles. I blocked her attempt to drive the knife into my chest and then landed three quick blows to Victoria's head. The last caused her body to go limp on top of mine and the knife to fall again, just barely missing my neck this time.

In quick succession, I pushed Victoria's unconscious body away, untied my ankles, and pulled my broken body over to the door to release the lock. Edward came barreling in, and after a quick assessment of the scene, swept me into his arms on the floor. I wasn't sure if the rocking motion he started was to comfort me or himself as it was unclear who was more terrified about what could have happened.

The adrenaline had completely seeped from my body, and I no longer had the strength or desire to fight off unconsciousness. I knew I had lost a lot of blood and probably had a concussion in addition to my broken leg, but in that moment, I just needed to cocoon myself fully in the safety of Edward's arms. The rest could be dealt with later.